Lawyers urge WTC workers to take $657M settlement

(AP) - Lawyers and city officials expressed confidenceFriday that they can get ground zero responders to sign on to asettlement that would pay up to $657 million to workers whodeveloped health problems after toiling in the ruins of the WorldTrade Center.

Thousands of workers who claim to have been sickened by dust anddebris will have three months to decide whether to accept thepackage. If 95 percent don't say yes, the deal is off.

The decision will be a complicated one, but a lead attorney forthe firm that negotiated the settlement said most of the feedbackfrom clients so far has been good.

Still, with 10,000 plaintiffs involved in the case, successisn't assured. Only $575 million of the settlement is guaranteed.Some workers will qualify for only the minimum payment of $3,250.Any award they get could be depleted by a third or more once theplaintiffs' lawyers take their cut.

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, who must approve thesettlement, declined to reveal his initial impressions of the dealFriday during his first hearing on the subject.

The settlement was announced Thursday evening after years ofcourt maneuvering and then two years of tough negotiations betweenlawyers for the plaintiffs and the WTC Captive Insurance Co., anentity set up by Congress to help the city deal with the mountainof legal action related to the trade center cleanup.

Most of the settlement will be funded out of a $1 billion grantfrom the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Payouts under the settlement will be determined on acase-by-case basis, using a complicated formula that factors in theseriousness of each person's illness, as well as their age,previous health history and level of exposure to trade center ash.Payments for the most severely ill could be more than $1 million,but most people stand to receive much less.

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